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A Day in the Life of a Monk at Fountains Abbey

02 May 2024


We were very pleased to have such a beautiful, sunny day for our visit to Fountains Abbey.  It was a lovely day to be outside and we enjoyed finding information about what life was life for the monks at Fountains Abbey.
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We have been thinking about why the monks chose to settle in the Skell Valley.   We stood on the West Green and looked around for features that would have made this a good place to have an abbey.   We noticed that the place is very peaceful and a good place to be quiet and pray. There were lots of trees for building the first wooden church and other early buildings, as well as making scaffolding, ladders and wooden trucks to move the stone from the cliff.  Later, it provided wood for furniture and the roof structure.


The river provided water for washing, drinking and cooking, as well as powering the mills for grinding wheat into flour.
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The cliffs provided shelter and stone for building the abbey.
 
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We found that the monks processed around the abbey in silence. They came into the church to worship eight times a day.  We decided to try to walk across to the entrance of the church in a silent procession but we found it very difficult not to talk!
Inside the church, we wondered about what was missing from the time when the monks were living there.  We saw the windows  but the glass is now gone.  We found out that the glass would not have been as clear as glass today and would have tinged with pale colours.  The roof has now gone.  We learnt that this is because the lead was taken off at the time of Henry VIII. Lead was worth as much as gold at that time, so it was stripped from the roof and melted down.  Unfortunately, once the lead was removed, the roof was no longer waterproof and the wood that formed the roof would have rotted.   We also discovered that the walls inside would once have been plastered and whitewashed. The floor of the church would have been covered in tiles but now the only remaining tiles are on the alter. We looked at the beautiful patterns.
 
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In the cloister, we noticed square holes in the walls that would once have held the wooden supports for the roof.  This area was where the monks would have walked around, with their hoods up, in prayer or meditation.   Also, this was where some of the monks worked to copy religious texts and book, by hand. They wrote on velum, made from sheep skin, as paper hadn’t arrived in England at that time.
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The writing was beautiful but very hard work and there is some evidence that the monks scribbled complaints in the margin!  Here are some examples of what was written:


The monks had many jobs to do, as well as attending the church eight times a day.  Sometimes, things would go wrong.  The monks were expected to confess if something had been done wrong and they would be given a punishment.  This might have been breaking something, speaking when they should be silent, falling asleep in a service, spilling ink or singing the wrong words!  One of the punishments was to lay face down on the cold, hard tiles. 
 
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The place where the monks ate was called the refectory. They sat on long benches to eat their food.  They were not allowed to speak, so used sign language to say please and thankyou and to ask for things.  In the mill, we found a representation of what mealtimes would have been like:
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Beside the refectory was the warming room.  This was a place where the monks liked being allowed to go!  The huge fire provided heat for the monks to warm up on cold days and enabled the scribes to prepare their ink.
 
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We found that Fountains Mill was built by the Cistercian monks in the 12th century to grind grain for the monastery.  It survived the closure of the abbey and continued to mill grain until 1927.
 
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We also explored the estate to find out what happened after the monks had left the abbey.  We learnt that some of the stone from the ruined abbey was used to build Fountains Hall between 1598 and 1611.  

We walked around the site to see the water gardens, sculptures and buildings that were created in the years after the dissolution of the monasteries.
 
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After all that walking, we particularly enjoyed our lunch and snack breaks!
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We had a lovely day out and learnt lots of things to help us answer questions about what life was like for the monks at Fountains Abbey.


 

Enjoy the long weekend!
Miss Wray and Mrs Micklefield
 
 

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North Yorkshire
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